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House bill to assure equal treatment of transgender people passes

State House Bureau

March 07. 2018 8:15PM

CONCORD — Proponents of a bill that adds gender identity to the state’s civil rights statute cheered loudly from the House gallery on Wednesday, as representatives voted to guarantee transgender people protection against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“Fear-mongering about public bathrooms and locker rooms is a smoke screen,” said Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart’s Location, the lead sponsor of HB 1319, which now moves on to the Senate after a 195-to-129 bipartisan victory in the House.

“Nothing in the bill changes the fact that it is illegal to assault a woman or man in a public bathroom or locker room,” he said.

Wednesday’s vote caps a two-year battle by supporters to get a bill through the House. Butler was the lead sponsor of last year’s transgender rights bill, which died on the table after losing a 187-179 House vote.

Butler predicted a different outcome this time around, and he was proven right. He expressed the hope that the bill will eventually be signed into law, allowing New Hampshire to join 18 states and 200 municipalities that have approved gender identity protections.

Opponents of the bill argued for an amendment to send the issue to a study committee, but that effort failed to muster majority support.

“We’ve been told this bill is not about bathrooms or locker rooms,” said Rep. Mark Pearson, R-Hampstead. “But when we asked for additional language that exempts these places, we got loud and emotional blowback … To say, ‘Get over your fears’ is not a compassionate response.”

Those fears were expressed by Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry. “Does this open up the door to showers where a male who says he is a female is able to take a shower with my granddaughters who have not had the operation,” he said. “Where is the protection for parents?”

Last year’s bill got a 15-2 bipartisan vote of “ought to pass” by the House Human Services Committee, but was opposed by the House Republican leadership. Then Speaker Shawn Jasper and Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, worked the Republican caucus aggressively to get the votes needed to table the measure.

This year, the “yes” votes prevailed.

“The affirmation this bill will provide to our transgender citizens, friends and community members is critical,” said Butler. “It will not solve many of the problems facing the transgender community. But it is the first major step toward equality.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has indicated his willingness to sign HB 1319 into law if it passes the Senate. The vote in the House drew 48 Republicans to join all Democrats present in support of the measure.

The bill was endorsed by the state Business and Industry Association, Women’s Foundation, Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and Association of Chiefs of Police.

The House also acted on two related bills. Representatives defeated HB 1560, prohibiting Medicaid from paying for sex reassignment drugs, hormone therapy or surgery, 188-140.

They also defeated HB 1532, prohibiting gender reassignment surgery for minors, 164-162.

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